Baltimore school officials are investigating hazing allegations involving the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School football program, and parents are protesting the possibility that the school's celebrated coach might be removed.
School officials declined to give details about the allegations or the investigation's status, saying the inquiry is continuing.
"As the CEO, my job is to come to the aid of children," interim schools CEO Tisha Edwards said in an interview. "If a child is hurt, disrespected, harmed in any form or fashion, it's my job to find out."
Edwards declined to elaborate. In a statement, the school system said it "takes any and all allegations of hazing seriously, and hazing in any form by any city schools student or staff member is unacceptable."
Parents of junior varsity football players who attended a meeting with school officials Jan. 27 said the allegations stemmed from a November incident in the locker room.
Dynisha Woods, parent of a ninth-grader who is a junior varsity football player, said that parents were informed at the meeting that an investigation could result in the removal of the football program's head coach, Lawrence Smith, from the school.
Woods said that when parents asked questions, they were told it was a "personnel issue" and to talk to their children about "bullying and hazing." She said the incident, which she described as "horseplay," was dealt with by the coach and Dunbar's principal when it was first reported.
"It is just ridiculous, and it just saddens me," Woods said in an interview. "This happened in November, and now it's February, and the situation was handled."
She said the investigation "has caused a ruckus in the school and a split in players' relationships," and that the team "stands behind their coach 100 percent."
Smith has been the head football coach at Dunbar for seven years, winning five state championships.
In an interview, Smith said that he is still the football coach, but that he was no longer serving as a school police officer for Dunbar.
"That's my police job; I was reassigned," said Smith, who didn't say where he had been transferred.
When asked why he was transferred and whether it had anything to do with hazing allegations, he said: "I can't discuss that."
He declined to comment further and referred questions to the school police union.
"At this point, the [union] has not been given any information to say there's a connection between any possible investigation and the transfer of our personnel, which is not uncommon in our police department," said Sgt. Clyde Boatwright, president of the school police union.
Edwards said she could not comment on personnel issues.
In a letter sent to political and education leaders, parents of junior varsity players defended their sons and protested any removal of the school's coach. Parents were also upset that as part of the investigation, members of the team were questioned without consent from their parents.
"Please know, we are saying our sons are not perfect, that they do not always do as they are told, that they are boys, good boys, and that they must develop their bonds just as we did," the letter said. "Some of our sons go through a lot of situations and it has been Coach Lawrence that has been there to pick the pieces up for them."
Edwards said she received letters from parents, including the one sent by the parents of junior varsity players.
"I want to make sure that anyone who is responsible for the development of our children is taking care of them," she said. "I expect every parent, staff person, and community member to help me take care of our children — to help me do what's right, if something inappropriate happened."
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